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History of Modern Political Philosophy


Admission requirements



An introduction to Political Philosophy focusing on the foundations of modern Liberalism in the Enlightenment contract theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. After an introduction to the basic problems and themes of modern political philosophy (the concept of the state and the distinction between legislature, executive and judiciary; the grounds of political obligation and authority, primary political goods etc.), the course will focus on the foundational texts of modern contract theory: Hobbes’s Leviathan, Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and The Social Contract (excerpts).

Key topics include: the concepts of natural law and the state of nature; the concept of reason; variations and problems of contract theory; individualism and collectivism; the concepts of equality and liberty; the free market and property; democracy. Special attention will be given to the nature and status of the ethical in these political theories. The course will end with a survey of some of the main lines of development stemming from these works.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete the course will have:

  • an understanding of the distinctive features of modern political philosophy in comparison to ancient political philosophy with special reference to the relation between politics and ethics or practical philosophy in each;

  • an understanding of the basic problems and of modern political philosophy (political authority, legitimacy; political obligation; primary political goods / the ends of government) and key concepts, like: political authority; sovereignty; the state, and the distinction between legislature, executive and judiciary; justice (distributive, retributive); equality; liberty; tolerance; democracy; consent; property; absolutism; liberalism;

  • an understanding of how these problems are addressed by the three key figures of Enlightenment political philosophy: Hobbes (Leviathan), Locke (Second Treatise of Government) and Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and The Social Contract). This includes: an understanding of the key arguments and the conceptual vocabulary used for them (primarily: reason; method; natural law / natural right; the state of nature; civil society; the social contract; consent; civil law; sovereignty; equality; liberty; propriety or property, inter alia); an understanding of the systematic relations between them regarding shared problems and concerns, and the strengths and weaknesses of each; but also a situated understanding of the different historical conditions to which they respond;

  • an understanding of the overall aims, strategy, structure and arguments of each of the above primary texts, as well as a detailed understanding of key passages and arguments (as discussed in class);

  • an overview of the major lines of development stemming from Enlightenment political philosophy, with special reference to contemporary liberal-democratic theory. This includes an understanding of how some of the difficulties in contemporary liberal-democratic theory can be traced back to fundamental assumptions established by Enlightenment political philosophy;

  • some knowledge of the standard, English-language secondary literature on Enlightenment political philosophy, especially: Macpherson’s “Possessive Individualism” and its critics; literature on the history of Natural Law / Natural Right.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • read the primary texts with the confidence needed to analyse, reconstruct and evaluate key arguments in them;

  • read secondary literature in such a way that they can extract the main points and arguments and give a clear and structured oral account of the main arguments and a balanced evaluation of it;

  • participate in class discussions in such a way that they make intelligible and well-reasoned claims or responses to questions raised;

  • answer short questions on individual primary and secondary texts, as well as longer comparative questions under normal exam conditions;

  • answer longer questions of a textual/interpretative nature and of a comparative nature under take-home conditions.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2015-2016, BA Wijsbegeerte (BA Plus-traject or Standaardtraject), eerste jaar.
See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2015-2016, minor Ethiek, politiek en cultuur: filosofie van het menselijk handelen

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures (hoorcolleges) with seminar discussions.

Class attendance is required .

Course Load

Total course load for the course (5 EC x 28 hours): 140 hours.

  • Class attendance: 3 hours per week x 14 weeks = 42 hours

  • Midterm take-home exam and preparation: 18 hours

  • Final take-home exam and preparation: 24 hours

  • Preparation lectures (inclusing time to study the compulsory literature) and assignments: 14 × 4 = 56 hours

Assessment method

  • Mid-semester take-home exam (40%)

  • Final take-home exam (50%)

  • Participation and practical assignments (10%)


One resit will be offered, consisting of a take-home exam covering the entire course content. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests. Class participation and the commpletion of practical assignments are mandatory requirements for taking the resit.Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.


Weekly use of Blackboard for announcements, assignments, course documents (lecture notes, overheads etc.), exams and course information.

Reading list

  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (CUP 1991). ISBN: 0521567971.

  • John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (CUP, 1988). ISBN: 0 521 35730 6.

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and excerpts from The Social Contract, both in: Basic Political Writings, tr. Cress, (Hackett 1988). ISBN: 0 87220 047 7.


Please register for this course via Study administration system uSis
See also Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “”.

Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs
Registration Studeren à la carte


Dr. H.W. Siemens


Lectures will be in English, although Dutch can be used for exams and contributions in class.